The Art of Saying ‘Thank You’ – How Great Leaders Celebrate Their Team


By Dr. Sandra L. Torres

This is the time of the year that many employees may receive a “turkey certificate” or basket, or perhaps they are given a Thanksgiving lunch. Some people won’t get any of these things, but they will be satisfied just the same. The reason for their satisfaction is they receive what most employees really want: a sincere thank you for their efforts and contributions from their leader. This in no way should discourage employers from extending Thanksgiving offerings to their team members, but should put into perspective the art of saying thank you.

Knowing how to say “thank you” to your team is an art every leader should learn and perfect. There is nothing that will earn you your team’s respect and esteem more than showing them your sincere gratitude. Leadership is most effective when it speaks to people’s feelings and their humanity. Although the practice of giving thanks should be ongoing, Thanksgiving is an ideal time to communicate an expression of appreciation to your team.

Leaders should approach of the art of saying “thank you” from the heart. The delivery of your words of appreciation will influence your team’s relationship with you, their attitudes and their emotions. Not only should the thanks be sincere, but it should also be justified. During this difficult economic downturn you may think there may not be a lot to be thankful for in terms of prosperity. However, you can give thanks for things such as achieving your operational goals or your organization having achieved a compliance target or even outstanding cooperation of your team.

Why do People Need Thanks?

Individuals have different reasons for needing to be appreciated, but the drive to have a positive impact can be applied to most people. This drive consists of the drive to be authentic, the drive for connection and the drive to have positive impact in the world. Seeking appreciation is natural for people who want to know that they are truly making a difference. Sincere appreciation for one’s efforts is not only necessary, but most people thrive on it. Showing your team that their efforts are not in vain, that they are truly appreciated, will not only keep them motivated to do more, but will also help them to continue to give you their best.

Another reason for leaders to give thanks to people is to help satisfy the natural need for inclusion. Stopping to notice and thank others results in inclusion and also provides recognition. This ultimately validates a person’s consciousness triggering good feelings about themselves and their leader. Whatever the reason for giving thanks, a leader should tailor the appreciation to the person and the moment.

How to Give Thanks

Leaders know that offering encouragement lets others know they are appreciated and also ensures their standing as educated and polite people. But giving sincere thanks generates more than goodwill and understanding, it is also an essential part of building personal and professional relationships. People who are thanked are encouraged and will appreciate their relationship with their leader and be more willing to cooperate and help in future interactions.

Appropriately thanking your team takes effort as well as authenticity. I recall a CEO complaining that even though he had taken his time to thank his sales team for their work during an end of the year conference call, they had barely uttered a “you’re welcome.” He was mortified that they had not shown more appreciation for his once-a-year thank you diatribe. By not putting much thought into his actions and expecting his team to see this as a tremendous act of generosity on his part, he wound up upsetting more people than he tried to thank.

How to give thanks is where the art comes in. Because the return on thanking your followers is huge, the sincerity of the appreciation must come from the heart and should also encourage the heart. If you don’t take time to think about your relationship with your team and deliver a truly sincere thank you, you may risk being viewed as artificial or worse hypocritical. Anything short of a well thought out and justified sincere thank you may come across as suspicious. A sincere gesture of thanks will probably be remembered far longer than any bonus check. Not only will you show your appreciation, but you will also strengthen the bond between you and your team.

According to research by Emergenetics International, an organizational development firm, leaders who are at the quieter end of the articulation spectrum can use their expressive nature to write a personal thank you note. Others who are on the expressive end of the articulation spectrum can use their gift of gab to share their appreciation. They suggest that the more assertive team members respond well to expressions such as, “Thanks for keeping the momentum going” or “I appreciate your decisive actions” whereas those who are easygoing or have less self confidence will benefit from expressions like, “Thank you for helping to keep the peace” or “I really appreciate your good nature more than you know.”

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of ways to say thank you, but verbal acknowledgement is by far the most effective. There are always incentives, rewards and promotions to credit excellent performance, but do not undermine the power of a spoken compliment. Verbally saying “thank you” to your team is the most powerful method of appreciation for good work done. When somebody in the team does something exemplary or an endeavor that moves the team forward, do not hesitate to express your gratitude or compliment them for it.

  • First and foremost, respect the team’s intelligence.
  • Acknowledge your team member’s suggestions, ideas, concerns and work issues.
  • Be magnanimous when it comes to gratitude and appreciation, render it to who it is due.
  • Be thankful for compliance and cooperation.
  • Foster a spirit of belongingness and acceptance.
  • Be specific about what a person did to deserve your appreciation.
  • Critical to showing appreciation is to know your team member’s individual interests and facts about their families.
  • Make your gesture of appreciation relevant to your team members’ efforts.
  • Lastly, be consistent by creating a continuous culture of rewards and appreciation.

Leaders need to say “thank you” in a genuine manner. Your team members will likely work much harder if they feel that what they’re doing really makes a difference, and that their efforts are noticed by those with power. Thanksgiving is a good time for leaders to reflect on the dynamics of delivering a sincere message of appreciation and their ability to do so. A well-accepted message will bring you success in employee motivation, as well as in building a positive, productive workplace.

For many leaders employee appreciation is part of their DNA, but for others it can be a scarce commodity. In fact, many organizations, are offering leadership development training to ensure that leaders develop skills in this area. Take this Thanksgiving season to make your workplace the exception and use every opportunity to demonstrate your gratitude to your team.

Author, speaker, and leadership consultant, Miami-based Dr. Torres has researched leadership practices around the world. More than 20 years of experience in the credit union industry has made her an ardent believer and practitioner of the credit union philosophy “people helping people.“ Leadership Si offers bilingual leadership expertise via her writings, training, workshops and speaking engagements. Her specialty is women’s leadership. Get to know her better by visiting

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